Case Study: How the RISE Communities Program is Fighting for Environmental Justice

RISE Community Project
  • Topic: RISE Communities 
  • Industry: Air Quality, Community Development, Environmental Justice  
  • Author: Adrian Dybwad 
  • Website: 


Not everyone breathes the same air. Some communities experience worse air quality conditions than the rest of the country, often because they are located near major thoroughfares or factories. Additionally, the residents of these communities are typically people of color and experience high rates of poverty. 

However, these environmental justice communities are taking action. With the help of RISE Communities, they’re partnering with academics and researchers to build air quality networks using air quality monitors like PurpleAir. That way, they can gather data that can help inform their initiatives and actions to improve air quality.  

In this air quality case study, we’re sharing how the RISE Communities program empowers environmental justice communities to advocate for better air quality with the help of PurpleAir air quality monitors.  

What are Environmental Justice Communities?  

Environmental justice communities are groups of people who live in places with disproportionately higher levels of pollution than the rest of the country. These communities often reside in low-income areas, such as factories, power plants, and major roadways and ports. Their population is also typically composed of people of color disproportionately. 

According to the State of the Air Report, a third of Americans live in neighborhoods with unhealthy air quality. Of this population, 54% are people of color. They also found that people of color are 3.7 times more likely to live in a county that doesn’t meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) than people who are white.  

Additionally, an air quality study reports that communities with the worst air quality forty years ago retain the same status today. This is despite the fact that air quality has significantly improved after the Clean Air Act of 1970.  

Since environmental justice communities are in highly polluted neighborhoods, their population is also more vulnerable to its health impacts. Frequent exposure to high concentrations of air pollutants, like particulate matter, can lead to severe health issues. These include the following, as listed by the American Lung Association:  

  • Premature death  
  • Asthma attacks  
  • Lung cancer
  • Cardiovascular diseases, like hypertension, arrhythmia, and stroke   
  • Heightened chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms  
  • Increased susceptibility to infections  

The environmental justice movement demands that everyone has equal rights—regardless of race, gender, and social and economic background—to clean and breathable air.  

What is RISE Communities?  

The Research Innovations using Sensor Technology in Environmental Justice Communities, also known as RISE Communities, is a non-profit training program that promotes community-engaged research by fostering effective partnerships between environmental justice communities and academics. They accomplish this by: 

  • Helping the two groups to build a strong sense of teamwork and collaboration through workshops, training seminars, and group sessions.  
  • Teaching the groups how to collect, analyze, and manage air quality monitors and air quality data.  
  • Holding follow-up consultations to help troubleshoot problems and ensure the community projects meet their goals. 
  • Developing an online community where groups can share ideas, discuss issues, and support each other. 
  • Providing communities with the necessary air quality monitors to help them track their air quality and record their data. 

RISE Communities hopes to provide environmental justice communities with the research skills to enact evidence-based changes in their area. At the same time, they hope to connect academics to these communities, so their research leads to real-world solutions. 

The RISE Communities is funded by the National Institutes of Health Grant and supported by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center Division of Biostatistics and Epidemiology and the University of Cincinnati Department of Family and Community Medicine.

How RISE Communities Empowers Communities with PurpleAir 

Known for their highly precise data, PurpleAir air quality monitors have been gaining widespread acceptance in the air quality research and academic community. In fact, the monitors have been reported to have a 97% correlation with FEM/FRM concentrations. Reputable organizations like ExactAQ, AirNow, and NASA, also use them for air quality maps and programs. 

More than that, PurpleAir air quality monitors are user-friendly. That means anyone, even those without an academic or technical background, can install and use the air quality monitors themselves. As a result, PurpleAir has a vast air quality network across the globe.  

Because of all these qualities, the PurpleAir quality monitors have become an ideal air quality monitor for RISE Communities. Now, environmental justice communities can operate their own air quality network and gain precise, real-time air quality data on their air quality. 

As such, communities can develop data-driven strategies to mitigate and eliminate air pollution. They can also use air quality monitors to measure the effectiveness of their local government’s air quality initiatives. 

Raising the Air Quality of Environmental Justice Communities  

“We’re not just training groups. We’re forming a community practice and network where people can support each other as they experience possible barriers with their air quality initiatives. We’re doing this because environmental justice communities have to be heard.” - Patrick Ryan, PhD, RISE Communities Principal Investigator.  

In August 2023, RISE Communities held their first program training for the year. They engaged a total of five groups from Cincinnati, Ohio; Newport, Kentucky; Louisville, Kentucky; and Dayton/Springfield, Ohio. In five years, they hope to launch 25 teams across the country, making their own impact on air quality, with trainings to occur annually each summer. Anyone interested in applying for the free training can visit the website to learn more about the program and submit an application. 

We can’t wait to see the results of the RISE Communities programs and how their communities empower more groups to work together and raise air quality. By making air quality data more accessible, we hope to empower more people to drive data-based solutions for their community’s air quality.

About PurpleAir 

Since being founded in 2018, PurpleAir has dedicated itself to providing highly precise air quality monitors that track hyper-local air quality levels in real time. In doing this, PurpleAir is empowering community scientists and helping to facilitate social change through accessible air quality data for all. By working together, everyone is more informed and able to make changes in their local communities to improve air quality.